As a student at the University of Toronto, I have always felt blessed to count myself among the 10,276 international students coming to this school from all over the world. To the university and the province, we are an invaluable source of revenue and economic growth; we are not only an integral part of the university, but also of the city of Toronto, known globally for its cultural diversity.
Despite our glaring presence, it may come as a surprise that we do not have any say in the governance of the university we attend.
Written in 1971 and amended in 1978, Section 2(4) of the University of Toronto Act states, “No person shall serve as a member of the Governing Council unless he is a Canadian citizen.” Immediately below this clause, Section 2(5) reads, “Every student is eligible for election to the Governing Council.”
With the international student population growing substantially with the coming of each academic year, this act alienates an increasing proportion of students who must pay up to six times as much as their domestic counterparts in tuition and differential fees — institutions like U of T are free to raise international student fees at their own discretion on an annual basis, while the provincial government of Ontario has not stepped in to regulate since 1996.
What is worse is that this disparity in tuition fees ends up feeding the stereotype that international students are wealthy, leading to a general apathy for issues concerning the group. The truth is, many of these students and their families face financial instability due to the unpredictable, and often exorbitant, tuition hikes, without the option of getting help from the government or U of T.
Though the university’s Centre for International Experience goes above and beyond to facilitate international student integration, there still exists an inherent hypocrisy in the way the university is touting its pride in being the “home away from home… to students from over 150 countries” when these students do not even have a representative voice to advocate for equal rights as their domestic counterparts.
As the issue stands, international students are not eligible for election to the Governing Council that manages tuition and revenue; they are not eligible for OHIP; they are not eligible to receive financial aid from the government; and they are not eligible to be treated equally in relation to their peers based on their national origin.
This is an issue that is dear to my heart, and I have been working very hard this year to make changes for international students, meeting with government and administrators to bring this issue to light. And the push for international students’ right of representation on the council is slowly but surely garnering the attention it needs, with student groups such as our newly founded International Students Association (iNSA) working to raise awareness among students. By creating a more equitable environment for all of its students, U of T can set a precedent and garner the respect it deserves as one of the best post-secondary institutions in the world.
Jane You is vice-president, external at U of T’s International Students Association (iNSA).
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the author’s affiliation with U of T’s International Students Association (iNSA). She is the vice-president, external, rather than communications.